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How “The Godfather” was reviewed

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On March 14, 1972, fifty years ago, it had its world premiere at Loew’s State Theater in New York The Godfather, which would arrive in US cinemas in ten days. It cost about seven million dollars, based on a book that according to the New York Times “Had almost as many copies as the Bible”, and anticipated by great curiosities about the interpretation of Marlon Brando, The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola immediately went very well and became the highest-grossing film of the year. It was also very popular abroad (in Italy it arrived in September) and to a large part of film critics.

Its being perceived – as it is today, half a century after that preview – as one of the best and most influential films of all time, one of those before-and-after, capable of changing a genre and a little also cinema in general, however, it arrived over time, due to the subsequent sedimentation of perspectives and opinions. As with other films, the first reviews of the Godfatherwritten by some of the most famous film critics of all time, presented it as a laudable film, for some excellent, but they almost never spoke of it as a masterpiece destined to make the history of cinema.

In reviewing the film – set in post-World War II New York, in the years when the initially reluctant son Michael takes over as Mafia boss occupied by his father (and godfather) Vito Corleone – critic AD Murphy he wrote on Variety: «In short, the film has a lot of great atmospheres, a great interpretation of Al Pacino, an excellent character study done by Brando and a strong supporting cast. It will be enough for some, just a job left unfinished for others ». According to Murphy, The Godfather it was “too long and confusing at times.” “While it’s never so placid that it gets boring, it never gets so enthralling as to become a higher level drama.”

Less negative was, on Chicago Sun TimesRoger Ebert, who gave to the film the highest possible rating (according to its scale, four stars out of four). Ebert appreciated the way the film “goes beyond the glare and glitz of traditional gangster movies and leaves us with what’s left: proud tribal loyalties, deadly little neighborhood wrangling in Brooklyn, and a specific form of revenge for all kinds of people. I face “. Like many reviews at the time, Ebert also devoted many lines to the book: at that time the film was still strongly conceived as a film adaptation of a successful novel. Ebert recalled how much the book seemed to have been written from within the mafia, noting that the film also managed to “feel the same.” He added: «Coppola has found a style and a visual aspect that pays off The Godfather a rarity, a really good film ».

According to Ebert, “we tend towards identification with Don Corleone not because we want a war between families, but because we have been with his family since the beginning, seeing them waiting for the battle while sitting in the kitchen eating spaghetti.” Ebert also noted – like so many other critics and viewers after him – that contrary to the book “the godfather himself is not even the central character of the story.” Speaking of that character, Ebert wrote that Brando managed to convey the idea of ​​”a man so used to power that he no longer has to bother to remind others”, but who seemed to “have put too much cotton in his cheeks, to the point of making motionless the lower part of his face ‘.

Ebert was not, however, among those who thought the film was too long: “there is something”, he wrote, “in the measured passage of time with which Don Corleone passes the reins of power, which would have made a shorter duration inappropriate.” And yet, he added, “despite this length, there are characters and relationships that you can’t understand if you haven’t read the book; or perhaps they can only be understood by the way the characters look at each other ».

To the interpretation of Brando was dedicated a relevant part of Andrew Sarris’ review for the Village Voice“Brando,” wrote Sarris after a few paragraphs of preamble about waiting for that performance, “provides an excellent performance as Don Vito Corleone, a role that Lee J. Cobb [un noto caratterista morto nel 1976] he could have interpreted while asleep and without special tricks ». For Sarris, “Brando doesn’t slip into the part, he lets the part of him occupy his sublime star personality.” The review then talked about the fact that “although Brando dominates every scene in which he appears, the part is relatively small, and there are other actors who manage to be equally good with considerably less effort.”

OnHollywood Reporterthe critic Arthur King he wrote to have preferred other interpretations than that of Al Pacino (“a sort of double of Dustin Hoffman”) and praised the way in which Coppola had managed to “recreate a certain time and a certain place” in which the interiors had “the rich and scorched earth aspect of the old photographs of those years “and the exteriors were” immersed in the sun and colors “. According to King, The Godfather it was “a curious film” in terms of how it managed to “make the activities of the godfather and his clan understood, almost justified”.

– Read also: The movie that changed movies

On New Yorkercritic Pauline Kael I speak of the Godfather as an “example of how the best popular films can emerge from the fusion of art and the market”. Di Brando wrote: “Is it magnificent?” yes, it is, but on the other hand it often is ». He added that no one had “aged better than he on a screen” and appreciated the way in which the actor managed to “bring Don Vito closer to death”, sometimes even “to innocence”. Of Don Vito Corleone, Kael wrote that it was “all echoes and nuances, not noise” and that it is thanks to the “legendary presence” of Brando’s character that the film “rises from telling a war between gangs to telling the tribal archetype Of the war”.

Kael also filled Pacino with praise: “You never catch him intent on acting, yet he manages to change, from a small and shaven university, darkly cute, to a lord of crime, becoming more intense, small and isolated with every step he takes.” Of how Coppola was able to combine those two interpretations, Kael wrote that the direction “never highlights the connections between father and son, they are simply there so that you can see them whenever you want”.

Kael, author of one of the reviews that praised the film the most (“it is popular melodrama, but expressed with a new tragic realism”), on the other hand, did not like the book at all: she called it a “junk novel” and wrote that she found it “illegible “Because” he tells you who and what the characters are in a few sharp sentences, and nothing more, he informs you about their past and their sexual lives with a couple of anecdotes, and then goes on. “

Writing for the New York Timesthe critic Vincent Canby he defined The Godfather “One of the most brutal and exciting chronicles of American life ever designed for popular entertainment.” In appreciating both Al Pacino and Marlon Brando he further wrote that the former was “an actor worthy of having the second as a father”.

The film was also very popular with Gene Siskel, another of the great critics who were active at the time. With reference to the ending, Siskel he wrote: «The Godfathernow and maybe forever at the Chicago Theater, it ends with a door closing in the face of the audience, and it’s because we’ve been behind that door for nearly three hours that the film has such a great hold. “